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Lawsuit by Attorney General Ken Paxton’s accusers can continue, Texas Supreme Court rules

4 months 3 weeks 4 days ago Friday, September 29 2023 Sep 29, 2023 September 29, 2023 11:53 AM September 29, 2023 in News - Texas news
Source: https://www.texastribune.org/
By: PATRICK SVITEK | THE TEXAS TRIBUNE
Attorney General Ken Paxton, left, walks back to his seat after speaking privately with defense attorney Dan Cogdell before starting the ninth day of his impeachment trial on the Senate floor on Sept. 15, 2023. Credit: Sam Owens/Pool via San Antonio Express-News

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The Texas Supreme Court has sided with former top deputies of Attorney General Ken Paxton and cleared the way for their whistleblower lawsuit to move forward.

The all-Republican Supreme Court on Friday rejected Paxton’s request to dismiss the lawsuit after the case had been on pause pending a possible settlement with the whistleblowers. The decisions came four days after the whistleblowers asked the court to reinstate the case — and about two weeks after Paxton was acquitted in his impeachment trial before the Texas Senate.

The lawsuit will return to a Travis County trial court.

"We are looking forward to obtaining a trial setting and to preparing this case for trial as soon as possible,” the whistleblowers' lawyers said in a statement.

Four whistleblowers sued the attorney general's office in 2020 for wrongful termination and retaliation after they reported Paxton to the FBI, alleging he abused his office to help a friend and donor, Nate Paul. They almost settled with the attorney general’s office for $3.3 million earlier this year — until Texas House investigators, concerned about using taxpayer dollars for the settlement, started probing the lawsuit’s claims and recommended Paxton’s impeachment.

The series of events effectively froze the case at the Texas Supreme Court. But on Monday, the whistleblowers held a news conference to announce that they were asking the high court to jump start their case in light of Paxton’s acquittal.

“The political trial is over, and it’s time for the case to return to a real court,” whistleblower Blake Brickman said Monday.

Paxton’s office declined to comment on the news conference, saying only that its lawyers would respond in court. But it appears they did not file a reply prior to Friday’s ruling.

Brickman is a plaintiff in the lawsuit with three other former Paxton deputies: Ryan Vassar, David Maxwell and Mark Penley. The four fired deputies testified as prosecution witnesses at Paxton’s impeachment trial.

The Supreme Court provided no explanation for its decision Friday, noting only that Paxton’s petition for review was denied with Justice Evan Young not participating.

The case reached the Texas Supreme Court in early 2022, after a state appeals court and the trial judge rejected pretrial attempts by Paxton’s agency to dismiss the lawsuit.

The Texas Whistleblower Act protects state workers from retaliation by other employees for reporting potential crimes to law enforcement. Paxton has argued his agency acted properly because it has the right to fire employees “at will” and because the whistleblower law does not apply to Paxton because he is an elected official, not a “public employee.”

“Like the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, and members of this Court, he is an elected officer, chosen by the people of Texas to exercise sovereign authority on their behalf,” Paxton’s office said in its petition for review to the Supreme Court.

Paxton’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s ruling.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/29/ken-paxton-supreme-court-whistleblower/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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